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Meet Aviva Paley of Kitchens for Good

Today we’d like to introduce you to Aviva Paley.

Aviva, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
At age 22 I decided I wanted to start an organization – a social enterprise kitchen. I had become obsessed with this business model that existed in large and small cities across the country- kitchens that offered job training, healthy meals to those in need, and community engagement, all while generating revenue. When I moved to San Diego 4 years ago I was shocked to find that no such kitchen existed here. I saw a need, and an opportunity to fill it.

While I had no experience in running a nonprofit, fundraising, or frankly anything about commercial kitchens, I did not allow these many red flags to stop me. The goal was ambitious– to combat issues of hunger, food waste, poverty, and prison recidivism in San Diego. For years I had been working at nonprofits focused on hunger relief and nutrition education. While the work being done to combat hunger is critically important to the communities it serves, I realized that no amount of food would ever solve hunger, as hunger is merely a symptom of poverty and lack of economic opportunity. I became determined to create an organization that gave people a hand up, not just a handout.

While working a full-time job, I spent my spare time in the library researching and creating a business plan for a social enterprise kitchen. In the process, I met my business partner and Founder, Chuck Samuelson, who had recently begun working on launching Kitchens for Good, he brought the deep experience of the culinary industry an an inspiring vision for growth.  After months of research and work, I took the leap to quit my ‘day job’ and partner with Chuck to bring this dream into reality. Soon thereafter our third founding member, Jennifer Gilmore, joined as the Executive Director, bringing a decades experience of non-profit and fundraising leadership.  With this rounded team we began the biggest task of all- finding our first kitchen.

We got our lucky break in September 2015 when we signed the lease for our first kitchen at the Jacobs Center. We became the operator of an 18,000 sqft kitchen/event space and catering company and went from a staff of 3 to 36 overnight. Since then, we have continued to grow our organization and programs.

In just two and a half years, KFG has: 1) Trained 150 unemployed individuals for jobs in the culinary industry, graduating 111 individuals; 2) Achieved a 90% employment rate post-graduation at jobs where students earn an average wage of $13 per hour; 3) Rescued 54,162 pounds of surplus food and turned it into 44,457 nutritious meals for the homeless, at-risk youth and homebound seniors; and 4) Developed a strong social enterprise catering operation that has generated $2.4 million in earned income and provided an ongoing 59% of the organizations budget.

It’s been a wild ride from there but I can truly say I feel like I have my dream job.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It was a long journey to the 60 person team we have today. Despite our name, Kitchens for Good, we were without a kitchen for over a year and a half, looking for the funding and appropriate space in order to turn this dream into a reality. Having the faith and perseverance that this could really happen was challenging and I often doubted if this was all just a pipe dream.

Then, once we finally got a kitchen that’s when the real work began! We experienced the typical pains of a startup: cash flow issues, access to capital, and a limited staff that was juggling 100 things. The challenges I was least prepared for, however, was seeing students whom we had watched grow and transform in such incredible ways, backslide into their old ways. Watching a student graduate from our training and find employment only to lose their sobriety or go back to prison is truly heartbreaking and the hardest part of my job.

It is rare that this happens but we have learned that the only recourse is to show them you still love and care about them and will be here when they are ready to get back on the right track. While there are still a hosts of challenges day to day, the last three and half years have made me more resilient to the struggles that come our way. Things that would break me down 2 years ago are now just another Wednesday!

Please tell us about Kitchens for Good.
Kitchens for Good is a non-profit with the mission to break the cycles of food waste, poverty, and hunger through innovative programs in culinary job training, healthy meal production and social enterprise. Kitchens for Good bridges the gap between wasted food and hunger by rescuing surplus and cosmetically imperfect food from wholesalers and farmers and engaging students in a culinary apprenticeship program to transform these ingredients into nutritious meals for hungry families.

This approach addresses the most immediate need of hunger by feeding the food lines but also helps to shorten the line itself by giving unemployed people the skills they need to become self-sufficient. Through the power of kitchens and cooking, Kitchens for Good helps its students transform their lives from one of addiction, incarceration, homelessness, and unemployment, to lives of stability, independence, employment and a brighter future.

In addition to tackling issues of food waste, hunger and poverty, KFG ensures its own sustainability by building a profitable food enterprise at the core of its kitchen. Kitchens for Good has a robust catering operation that caters over 600 events a year, ranging from weddings to corporate meetings, conferences and celebrations. This model creates on-the-job training opportunities for culinary students while generating revenue to reinvest into KFG’s programs. Unlike many nonprofits, KFG generates 59% of its budget through social enterprise revenue, thus reducing its reliance on philanthropy.

How do you, personally, define success? What’s your criteria, the markers you’re looking out for, etc?
To me, our success is in the success of our students that graduate from our culinary apprenticeship program. Watching someone get their first paycheck ever, hold down their first job, and feel like a productive member of their community for the first time; that is success. Beyond our students, success lies in delivering immaculate catered events that wow our customers and guests. We love delivering exception food and service, all while knowing that the catering is going to support such an important cause.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 404 Euclid Ave Suite 102 San Diego CA 92114
  • Website: www.kitchensforgood.org
  • Phone: 6194504040
  • Email: info@kitchensforgood.org

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